B2B Email Marketing Starts at Ground Zero

Do you remember your first “Ah, ha!” moment on the Internet? I had mine in 1993 when I received my first email message from someone in another country. Fast-forward to 2001. What has changed? Well, everything and nothing.

Email is still the dominant Internet application. Strangers are still communicating with one another. But not all messages are useful or welcome conversations. In fact, some messages are downright annoying. They’re not relevant to what I’m doing or thinking. I’m not ready to buy, or it’s not clear what the business benefit is.

Let’s pause for a minute at the beginning of this new millennium, and wrap our minds around the following fact: Scarcely a decade ago, the Internet and email didn’t even exist! We were at ground zero. And when it comes to B2B email marketing, you’ve got to start at ground zero.

Before you jump into the logistics of planning an email marketing campaign, from evaluating lists to defining an offer, stop long enough to ask some basic questions.

We can do that by borrowing from Journalism 101’s five Ws and an H.

Who

Whom are you starting a conversation with? Do you understand their business needs? Do you know how they think and what matters to them? Do you know how and why they use the web and email? If you are targeting the construction industry, your prospects may be on a job site wearing a hardhat during the workday, not sitting in front of a computer screen. That’s not as outlandish as it sounds. Not everyone is as enthralled with the online experience as we online marketers are.

What

What are you trying to accomplish? If it’s to drive more traffic to your site, think again. That’s not a business objective. Email marketing requires a good deal of planning as well as attention to detail. You’d better be clear about your goal if you don’t want to waste time and resources. Hint: A business objective is to acquire x new customers at an average sale of $x,xxx each.

Why

Why should they care? This is the most important question, and it’s my favorite. Your message must address the “So what?” test. You’re offering a free download of your software for a trial evaluation. Well, so is everyone else. Why is your download worth the recipient’s time? If you can’t answer the “So what?” question, you’re unlikely to get the response and results you’re looking for.

Where

If your target readers are in their office cubicles when they receive your message, you should focus your offer on the business benefits of your product or service, right? Wrong. People don’t check their emotions at the office door. B2B email recipients will respond to an offer such as “Win a Palm Pilot,” even if it’s unrelated to your product.

When

When might the information you are conveying be useful? Where is each segment of your target audience in the buying or decision-making cycle? How often should you email updates about your product? Should you send reminders about an offer before it expires? How do you plan an email campaign so that it is a conversation and not a one-way blast of information?

How

And finally, how do you want your audience to respond to your message? Are you just inviting click-throughs to a web site through embedded links? If it’s a big-ticket item and/or a complex software product, do you offer a phone number to reach a live salesperson? If your message is the opening of a conversation, what other media can you use to extend that conversation long enough to make a sale? Because that’s the endgame, isn’t it?

These are the kinds of questions I’ll explore in coming weeks. I’ll also be looking at how B2B is different from B2C email marketing, how the two are similar, and how B2C and B2B email marketers can learn lessons from one another to create powerful acquisition and retention email campaigns.

And I’ll be reminding you about that “Ah, ha!” experience. An effective email message clicks. Remember how it felt at ground zero? That’s the kind of fresh, compelling experience you’re looking to create with successful B2B email marketing.

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